8 Powerful Secrets To Build Children’s Self-Esteem And Confidence

1. Encourage children to do things for themselves

Supporting children’s independence is crucial in early years education, so we focus on that first, in detail. Here’s how we, as early years practitioners, can encourage independence: 

  • Before intervening, take a moment to observe the child. Assess whether they genuinely need assistance or if they are taking their time. Sometimes, children are absorbed in their tasks and need a little more time. 
  • Encourage children to embrace challenges and see mistakes as opportunities to learn. Praise their efforts and persistence rather than just the result. This fosters resilience and a positive attitude towards learning. 
  • Ensure that the tasks you assign are suitable for the child’s age and developmental stage. Tasks that are too difficult can frustrate children, while tasks that are too easy may not challenge them enough. Finding the right balance is key. 
  • Demonstrate independence in your actions. Children often learn by example, so let them see you completing tasks on your own and problem-solving when faced with challenges. 
  • Instead of immediately stepping in, offer guidance and encouragement. Ask open-ended questions to scaffold their thinking and help them find solutions on their own. For example, “What do you think you could try next?” or “Can you tell me about your plan?” 
  • Arrange the learning environment to promote independence. Ensure materials are accessible to children and encourage them to tidy up after themselves. Clearly label areas and materials to encourage self-directed play and exploration. 
  • Acknowledge and celebrate children’s achievements when they complete tasks independently. This could be through verbal praise, stickers, or a special spot on an “Independence Wall” where their accomplishments are displayed. 
  • Share with parents the importance of fostering independence at home as well. Provide them with strategies and ideas they can use to encourage independence in their children outside of the childcare setting. 
  • Regularly reflect on your practice and how you’re promoting independence. Adapt your approach based on the needs and progress of the children in your care. What works for one child may not work for another. 
  • It can be challenging to resist the urge to jump in and help immediately, especially when time is limited. Remember to be patient and give children the time they need to develop their independence skills. In the long run, it will benefit both you and the children in your care.

2. Praise effort and resilience for self-esteem

If children only ever get praised for their wins, they will learn to associate acceptance with victories, and this may lead to them shying away from failure through a subconscious fear of rejection. However, if alongside their victories, we also praise their effort and resilience, they will develop more of a growth mindset because they will see the greatness in persistence and determination and will therefore face challenges head on knowing they are being brave and bold rather than a ‘failure’. 

  1. Allow them to fail

Following on from the previous point, it is important to not only allow children to fail but also to teach them how to fail. One of my favourite sayings is ‘there are no mistakes in life, just lessons’ and I think this is very true. In the words of Nelson Mandela, we either win or learn. In life, we will fail many times before we succeed. However, if we can take each failure as a lesson and use it as a stepping-stone to learn and grow, we will achieve our goals much sooner. Behind every successful person there are many unsuccessful moments, so we need to teach children to embrace the setbacks and view them as a part of their journey to greatness.  

  1. Make them feel loved and accepted

Every child is unique and individual. There will be times when their little personalities and beliefs clash with ours. However, they must be allowed to develop and grow into their authentic selves and know that they are loved and accepted for who they truly are.  

  1. Teach them positive self-talk

Our words are powerful, and our minds are like computers that get programmed with the messages and actions that are experienced consistently. In the words of Henry Ford, ‘Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you are right’. What we tell ourselves is important because our mind will be obedient to the messages it receives. Positive self-talk impacts our mindset, and our mindset influences our actions daily. The more we believe in ourselves, the more likely we are to act in a way conducive to success. Starting each day with a positive affirmation or with a positive mantra song can inject positivity into your day and done consistently can truly make a difference to our inner beliefs 

  1. Ask them for their opinion

Asking for children’s advice and opinions on subjects and scenarios makes them feel valued and teaches them they have a voice in this world. This not only builds self-esteem but also allows them to process their thoughts and feelings about different situations and encourages them to make decisions and be assertive which will serve them well throughout life.  

  1. Give them a choice

Even though adults are very much in control when it comes to children, nobody likes to feel controlled, and I believe it is important to create opportunities throughout the day where children can have a choice and feel like they are autonomous. We will still oversee those choices, and guide children in the right direction. However, by allowing them the chance to choose from two options (any more than that can be overwhelming), their confidence will be boosted, and you may find that you get less ‘pushback’ throughout the day.  

Here are some examples of how to give a choice: 

  • Present 2 different clothes options each day 
  • Ask them if they want their lunch now or in 10 minutes 
  • Allow them to choose which area they want to tidy up (give 2 options) 
  • Let them choose from 2 books for story time 
  • Let them choose from 2 snacks 
  1. Let them take healthy risks

It can be scary to let children take risks and our instinct is always to swoop in a ‘save’ them. However, by allowing children to take healthy, age-appropriate chances, they have the opportunity to learn their boundaries, overcome physical challenges, strengthen their senses and build their self-esteem. Keeping children safe in a setting or home must be a priority. However, their environment needs to stimulate and challenge them because this will not only boost confidence but also raise the limit of their comfort zone and help them develop a positive ‘can-do’ attitude. 

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